A review: Dungeon Fantasy (powered by GURPS)

On the surface, Dungeon Fantasy (hereafter, DF) is pretty simple:

  1. Take GURPS
  2. Remove anything not relevant to a generic fantasy milieu
  3. Remove anything that’s not, well, generic
  4. Streamline and simplify any rules you have left
  5. Bundle together a bunch of stuff into generic fantasy tropes (e.g. a “bard” class)

As they point out, the entire game is fewer words than Volume 1 of 4E. When I say “remove” or “simplify”, I mean it.

Most of it is easily and quickly recognizable as GURPS; the edit job is very good. Anyone with a few games of GURPS under their belt will quickly and easily make sense of it all. The streamlining is also very good, so people who were intimidated by GURPS will have no trouble picking things up.

It makes you ask the question, though: who is this for?

Experienced GURPS gamers have little need for a generic rules-light fantasy game.

[Sidebar: I struggled over the term ‘rules-light’. Even in its slimmed-down form, DF has more rules than what usually passes for rules light in the latter half of 2017. That said, compared to GURPS is practically Apocalypse World, so maybe rules-light is the best descriptor.]

A very experienced GURPS group might be doing something like a big custom setting with massive customization. GURPS makes one-shots very difficult. If nothing else just telling everyone the parameters for character creation can take a ton of effort! DF takes all that and lets you do simple exploration/dungeon crawl fantasy games.

Inexperienced gamers in search of more crunch but hesitating to take the plunge into the very heavy game system of GURPS will benefit from the simpler rules, that they can later switch to if it pleases them.

Overall, I like it, but I’m uncertain just how much staying power it has compared to a full-fledged GURPS game. Once you’ve run a few one-shots and leveled up a few characters, what then?

Edited to add: I forgot to mention a couple of points. First, production design and quality are as you’d expect from SJGames: really good. The books have a somewhat minimal style with good (but not great) art. The text is clear and readable, “scannable”, and everything is indexed and easy to find.

Second, the more I think about it, the more I like it. My initial “what then”, the more I think about it, gives way to an organic “sandbox” style of gaming instead of the big, up-front games we’re used to. Maybe that’s good.

“Troupe” style play

Back in the dark ages, there was a really fun game called “Ars Magica”. It was set in “Mythic Europe”, a semi-historical version of late “dark ages” Europe (~1100AD, give or take) where magic was real.

The idea was that each player controlled a group of characters: a Mage, who was incredibly powerful; a Companion, who was more or less like a regular fantasy RPG character; and a coterie of grogs, who were semi-expendable cannon-fodder (but who could, over time, grow to power and become full-fledged companions).

I have looked around and not seen any system for more traditional AD&D/3E/Pathfinder; the rules are strongly aimed at regular party groups.

What got me thinking about this is Darkest Dungeon, which is one of my favorite games (despite its tendency to provoke cursing fits that would have George Carlin asking me to “tone it down a little”). To a lesser extent, another game I love, Guild of Dungeoneering.

In it, you command a company of mercenary dungeon delvers, who die QUITE OFTEN. However some grow to considerable power.

I was wondering how to run a desktop version of that; a kind of “you get d4 new recruits every ‘phase'”, kind of thing. The question is how to keep everyone connected to the story, I guess.

The Sprawl thoughts: Matrix hacking

This is apparently a PbtA gripe/ideas blog now, but it’s on my mind lately.

I like the abstract hacking rules quite a bit: it’s abstract but captures the flavor, keeps the hacker types in the game, and after several reads feels right. But PbtA is all about hacks, right?

My thoughts were mostly about the D&D-style/wargaming inspired maps from Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, combined with my day job as an actual doer of Internet computer maths. A few minutes with Paper and I got this:

network map
network map

ICE is colored per-link or system. The basic idea is that each node on the network is either one of the specific types listed in the rules, or a generic node the MC can use to riff on or as a story element or whatever (“I leave a backdoor on node X”). The links between nodes show visibility to each other, and the MC can introduce soft-fail elements like “high network traffic” or whatever on certain links.

From a purely descriptive point they remain the giant whatever of your Matrix geography: maybe they are individual geometric shapes, or streets on a synthetic New York City, or literally green screen characters. Doesn’t matter.

A guess at the plot to John Wick 3

http://www.slashfilm.com/director-chad-stahelski-gives-a-john-wick-3-update/

If I had to guess:

  • he’s on the run
  • he meets a small group of other excommunicated assassins/people connected to this weird secret society run by the High Table
  • we get lots of flashbacks as a result (eg the Bowery King having fought against him in the past)
  • someone has some info or whatever that will “bring the whole thing down”
  • someone’s a turncoat
  • uh something something dog

 

Libertarians don’t exist

This image is pretty popular:

types_of_libertarian1

But here’s the thing: those are all just facets of the same person.

I have yet to meet a single “libertarian” who votes anything other than straight-party Republican. Not once. They even do this neat trick where they claim “but I do vote for libertarians”, and point to a Republican who self-identifies Libertarian; but recursively that person always votes Republican.

This election cycle we at least got a few Republicans voting Libertarian as a protest, and a few who will loudly and proudly proclaim their support for ol’ stoned-what’s-his-name as proof of their bona fides, but for the most part … Libertarians don’t exist.

I think I’ve solved my Powered By The Apocalypse problem

So I’ve been mulling over this PbtA stuff that is pretty popular right now. It’s the indie, check-out-my-Kickstarter system. It’s got some really, really interesting ideas.

The most interesting ideas (to me) are the ideas of partial success, a loose collection of systems that have a unique flavor while retaining the same basic mechanics (e.g., countdown clocks), and playbooks. 

But what I couldn’t wrap my head around was the mundane stuff you learn in a new game system: like, combat? And why does Dungeon World have a single roll called “undertake a perilous journey”? What the fuck.

It was this video from the PbtA hack Uncharted Worlds that not only gelled what I wasn’t getting it, but why it bothered me.

It’s that combat is too abstracted. (Other things too, but mostly combat)

D&D is too mechanical: you spend a lot of time doing math, rolling LOTS of dice, and looking up tables and charts and stuff. Rolling lots of dice can be fun but switching to a tactical war game from a storytelling game is … well it’s why Storyteller, PbtA, et al gained traction.

It just reads/feels like …

“OK, roll.” *dice clatter*

Success! Hell yeah! “OK, so, I charge in and slash the first orc in the face. He collapses in a gurgle of blood and viscera. The next runs at me screaming, and I throw my dagger. It hits him in the throat … “

Etcetera.

That’s cool, narratively, because now the player is directly involved in the action (as opposed to “ok, I hit, 10 damage, chopped that fucker in half!”). It’s even better when the player rolls a partial success, because now the fight gets interesting with the GM adding complications.

Still: it’s too loose. Breaking down the combats in PbtA seems to not only break the flavor of the system but the balance. Other stuff (the aforementioned “undertake a perilous journey”) is likewise too brief, too … terse. 

Would reducing the amount of narrative effect ruin the entire point of PbtA? Am I just over-thinking this?